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Treacherous time for Old Firm tie

Published: Friday 18 November 2005, 17.40CET
Alex McLeish begins a crucial two-week period when he takes his Rangers FC side across Glasgow to face Scottish Premier League leaders Celtic FC on Saturday.
by Alex O'Henley
from Glasgow

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Published: Friday 18 November 2005, 17.40CET

Treacherous time for Old Firm tie

Alex McLeish begins a crucial two-week period when he takes his Rangers FC side across Glasgow to face Scottish Premier League leaders Celtic FC on Saturday.
Alex McLeish begins a crucial two-week period when he takes his Rangers FC side across Glasgow to face Scottish Premier League leaders Celtic FC on Saturday.

Pressure games
The manager is under immense pressure with Rangers having won just two of their last eleven fixtures - including a 2-0 defeat by Celtic last week in the quarter-finals of the Scottish League Cup - and the stakes were upped considerably on Monday when chairman David Murray gave McLeish until the beginning of December to produce improved results.

Fighting spirit
The 46-year-old knows the next three matches away to Celtic, FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and Hibernian FC the following Sunday will determine his future, and McLeish wants the Rangers players to adopt his own fighting spirit to turn their season around. "I've been a fighter most of my life and I'll continue to be a fighter," he said. "We need to get back on our feet again and start winning matches. Some of the players are still searching for peak form; hopefully they'll find it on Saturday."

Earlier meeting
It is all a far cry from the first Old Firm derby of the season on 20 August when Celtic lost 3-1 to Rangers at Ibrox. Back then it was McLeish's friend and former Aberdeen FC team-mate Gordon Strachan who was under fire following a disappointing start to his career as Celtic manager. A Champions League exit at the hands of FC Artmedia led to calls for his dismissal and the mood darkened further after the defeat against Rangers.

Strachan resurgent
However, with the media focus on early pacesetters Heart of Midlothian FC and Rangers' adventures in Europe, Strachan has used the intervening period to revive the fortunes of the Parkhead side with a passing game that has won over the fans. Celtic are unbeaten in their last ten league games and now lead the defending champions by 12 points.

Staying put
Having worked their way to the top of the table, Celtic captain Neil Lennon is determined to stay there. "The team is settled, the manager is doing a good job for us and all our players are bang in form," said Lennon, sent off along with Alan Thompson in the previous derby at Ibrox. "We've reached the top of the table for the first time and basically that's where we want to be until the end of the season."

Injury worries
Both managers have injury worries with striker Craig Beattie ruled out for Celtic although Maciej Zurawski and Chris Sutton might be available. Strachan will also hope that Shunsuke Nakamura, Stilian Petrov and John Hartson all returned unscathed from international duty in midweek.

Rangers doubts
McLeish has even bigger problems with Olivier Bernard and Julien Rodriguez joining a casualty list that includes Thomas Buffel, Nacho Novo and Federico Nieto. However, former Olympique de Marseille captain Brahim Hemdani has shaken off a thigh strain and should be fit for a game that Rangers must win if they are to stay in the championship race.

Last updated: 19/11/05 17.41CET

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